I went to a very interesting IMI conference on Thursday this week. In fact I had been asked to speak so I was quite heavily invested in a successful outcome in any case. What came across throughout the day was that we are sitting on an industry on the brink of massive change. Changes to the way we operate, to the way we sell and distribute our product, to the technology, to the way we recruit and lead our teams, even changes to the way that everyone drives. In fact I opened my talk with “Welcome to the 1988 Typewriter Manufacturers’ Conference”. Because it feels like the changes we are about to see are just as dramatic as the Word Processing revolution.
Electric vehicles are here to stay, diesel would seem to be on the way out. The development in electronic technology is staggering, and the implementation of infrastructure, new battery technology and above all, the lack of servicing and maintenance opportunities going forward are quite sobering. If you add in the need for software specialists and electricians used to dealing with extremely high voltages, you will see some of the training, development and indeed regulatory issues that are facing a traditionally mechanical industry. While fully autonomous driving may seem a long way off, driving aids are getting ever more sophisticated. And the ability to help drivers in their imperfect efforts to drive safely are impressive.
The bit I particularly liked when I researched my side of the business, and obviously I read a lot in any case, was about artificial intelligence and recruitment. Because in case you don’t know it, there are some very sophisticated systems out there already. They go way beyond what GDPR is desigend to protect us against. Some of the companies’ ability to share data, even is in this heavily protected age, is staggering. It will probably come as no surprise to you to learn that if a company trawls LinkedIn profiles, a programme can compare them to somebody’s Facebook profile. It can also look at their Twitter feed.
None of that probably comes as a surprise to anybody. But what if it also looks at your Amazon shopping list, your Netflix history, your Spotify playlist? Supposing somebody makes a decision about your future based on whether you are following Richard Branson or not, or in these days of open banking whether you have a standing order with Oxfam or any other such random, but useful indicators. You have to ask where this will all stop, whether your Tinder account will be looked at, or your purchase history with Majestic Wines? We do have some protection under GDPR, though that is limited if people are also involved in the decision-making process.
Isn’t the future wonderful? It probably always looks a lot scarier than it is, but I wonder, more than ever, whether we are in danger of turning people into something that relates more to an algorithm than to flesh and blood.
Enjoy the near future at any rate, especially this weekend. Time to get the barbie out.
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During my eighty-seven years I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them have done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think.
Bernard M. Baruch (1870 – 1965)
If there is technological advance without social advance, there is, almost automatically, an increase in human misery.
Michael Harrington, The Other America, 1962
Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.
R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983)
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